Posts Tagged ‘O’Connell Street Dublin’


Just a quick post to bring your attention to an exciting project which features the type of vernacular photography that I love. ‘Man on Bridge’ is a documentary which will look at the work of Arthur Fields, a Dublin street photographer who worked on O’Connell Bridge for over 50 years. I have a few of his images in my collection including this one of a group of young men taken in the 1950s. You can find out more about the project and how to support it here.

The photographs below are slightly earlier and were taken on O’Connell Street. The back of one of the prints outlines the contact details for Irish Walking Films where the photographs could be collected.




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Henry Dunbar based his business in a premises on O’Connell Street which had a long association with the photographic trade. Between 1859 and 1890, number 39 was the building from which Thomas Millard ran his photographic studio. Firstly in partnership as Simonton & Millard; then for a short period in the 1860s trading solely as Thomas Millard and finally working with J.V. Robinson between 1864 and 1889.

Mr Dunbar’s business was not as long-lasting. He appears at this address for the first time in 1889 and died on the 13th December 1905 at the age of 54. The winding-up of his affairs was conducted by his son, Arthur Dunbar, who was a resident of Regent’s Square, York.

I know little more about Dunbar, except that his early adoption of the name O’Connell Street rather than Sackville Street is an indicator of nationalist leanings. In late 1884, the largely nationalist Dublin Corporation had voted to re-name the city’s main thoroughfare in honour of Daniel O’Connell, the champion of Catholic Emancipation. This was not to the liking of the majority of the street’s traders who got a court order preventing the name change. Dunbar was, of course, making a political point by his use of the street’s new name!

The verso of the cabinet card is nicely executed and alludes to the artistic nature of photography. The ‘photographer as artist’ is displayed alongside some typical studio props. This generic design was probably purchased from France or Germany which is where most photographers sourced their card backs.

The photograph itself provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of work during the period. Certain details are typical of Victorian or Edwardian tradesman, for example, the apron and white shirt sleeves. Most wear hats and have impressive moustaches. I love the individual who is posed in the act of ‘hammering’ a basket! Baskets were used to house and transport a wide variety of goods and as late as 1924, Dublin street directories listed nine basket-makers in the centre of the city.

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When I first started researching this oddly named studio, I thought that the American Ping Pong Studios were in some way related to the 1920s craze for table tennis! Upon further investigation, I discovered that a Ping Pong Studio was a type of basic photographic studio, usually located at a tourist attraction, which offered inexpensive and quickly produced portraits. A 1909 book by J. B. Schriever entitled ‘Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photograph’ outlines how to set one up. Other references refer to a business model which charged more for fancy borders and frames than for the actual photographs. 

The portrait itself is strong and I love her confident gaze at the camera. The beehive shaped toggles on her hat and the luxurious fur wrap are nice touches too.

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This photograph shows a view of O’Connell Street from Nelson’s Pillar taken on Monday 7th September 1942. We are always hearing how bleak Ireland was during the 1940s and 50s but to be honest I wouldn’t mind a good look around the shops on this block. The Thom’s Street Directory for 1942 lists the businesses as the Saxone Shoe Company; Dunn & Co., hatters; Rowntree & Co. Ltd., cocoa, chocolate and confectionary manufacturers; Jameson & Co., jewellers; Bobby Morris, ladies’ hairdressers and Clifford’s and Maxwell’s, tailors. It also includes Jordan’s Billiard Saloon.  

The print is actually quite small but I don’t mind that the close-ups are slightly blurred as they still give a real sense of the street showing cyclists, delivery trucks, people chatting and going about their everyday lives. 

According to The Irish Times for the date you could go and see the following films at O’Connell Street cinemas: the Metropole was showing a farce called Charley’s American Aunt with Jack Benny, Kay Francis, James Ellison and Anne Baxter. The Savoy was showing Gone with the Wind and the Carlton featured Elsie Janis and Wendy Barrie in Women in War. Jim Keenan’s Dublin Cinemas: A Pictorial Selection (2005) and Marc Zimmerman’s History of Dublin Cinemas (2007) provide an excellent account of Dublin’s many cinemas.

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